Exactly one year ago, the crisis between Uganda and Rwanda began to take a sharp turn for worse as the first Rwandan was dumped at our common border.
Fidele Gatsinzi’s extensive torture, with marks visible across his entire body, meant he couldn’t stand on his own, needing a wheel-chair.
To members of the media, his ordeal was a revelation about the systematic operation underway in Uganda against ordinary Rwandans was underway; no one, even someone like Gatsinzi who had travelled there for his son’s school visitation day, was safe in that country.
Most importantly, the heavy presence of the RNC in Uganda and its role orchestrating the mistreatment came as a surprise to many. Subsequent proof that Uganda was actively involved in attempts to destabilize its neighbor could no longer be ignored. Following sub-regional efforts to resolve this crisis, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in Luanda, Angola, on 21 August 2019 between the heads of state of the two countries under the auspices of the Angolan president and in the presence of the presidents of the Democratic Republic of Congo and his counterpart from the Republic of Congo.
Uganda’s inability – or rather unwillingness – to adhere to the terms of that MoU is now pushing Rwanda into considering whether there is any point in continuing with it.
The entire burden of implementing the provisions of the MoU is on Uganda to halt its actions against Rwanda, its victim. For starters, however, it has refused to implement the provision that requires it to “protect and respect the rights and freedoms of nationals of the other Party residing or transitioning in their national territories, in accordance with the law of that country.”
This provision obligates Uganda to free all illegally detained Rwandans in that country and to apply due process in handling their cases. Initially, the officials said that they couldn’t release people if it didn’t have a list of detainees.
How did Uganda expect Rwanda to have the list when it is Uganda that detains them? Was Uganda failing to keep records of people its security services were picking up all over the country? If so, isn’t this proof of the indiscriminate nature of such detention of Rwandans in Uganda?
Nonetheless, Rwanda went out of its way to respond to Uganda’s demand. At the first meeting of the ad-hoc committee on the Luanda MoU in Kigali on September 16, 2019, it bent over backwards to provide a list of Rwandan victims detained extra-legally in Uganda – even if there was never a real need to do so in the first place.
As a matter of fact, the communiqué signed by the head of delegation of Uganda, its Minister of Foreign Affairs Sam Kutesa, and his Rwandan counterpart, Minister of State for Regional Cooperation Oliver Nduhungirehe, notes that “Rwanda provided a list of Rwandans detained in Uganda and the Republic of Uganda committed to verify the information for the purpose of processing those named through due judicial process and releasing those against whom no evidence of criminal conduct will have been found.”
Even with this communiqué and the list of detainees provided to Uganda, that country’s officials kept claiming, falsely, that the reason they were not releasing their illegally detained Rwandan victims was because Rwanda had yet to provide them the list. It is interesting to note that prior to their president’s signing of the MoU, they were claiming there were no Rwandans whatsoever illegally detained in Uganda, “There’s no witchhunt for Rwandese in Uganda. There’s also nobody from Rwanda being held by the Ugandan authorities for any reason. We would like to send a clear message to Rwanda that there’s no one Uganda is harassing from Rwanda or has in custody,” the Ugandan government chief spokesman Ofwono Opondo had declared.
Kutesa himself had on March 5, 2019, issued a press release making similar claims, “It is not true that Uganda arrests, tortures and harasses Rwandans,” he said. All this underlines the fact Uganda’s dishonesty prior to the MoU continues revealing its bad faith and reluctance to implement its MoU obligations.
While, for instance, paragraph 2 of the September 16 Kigali joint communiqué provides that “Both parties agreed that due process will be followed in dealing with each other’s citizens,” not a single Rwandan has been produced in courts of law nor been deported in accordance with the law.
Rwandans in the custody of Ugandan security agencies, many for lengthy periods without ever being presented before courts of law, have simply been pulled out of their dungeons and dumped on our common border rather than being legally deported. Invariably this has always been done in the small hours of the night, no doubt to avoid the possibility of embarrassing press coverage that would contradict consistent Uganda government official denials there were any Rwandans illegally detained in the country.
It is also to prevent a hit to Kampala’s pan-African pretentions that would inevitably come from other Africans seeing an African country treat citizens of another in such an inhumane manner, including extensive signs of torture.
The dumped victims also recount how they have been dispossessed of their property in complete violation of due process.
A particularly heart-rending case involves a distraught mother who spent a year in illegal detention who, upon being dumped on the border, started demanding for the return of her baby the Ugandan authorities had taken from her when they picked her up. To date, despite multiple demands, Kampala has failed to return the infant to its mother or provide any accounting for its whereabouts.
Rwanda has ignored Uganda’s failure to respect the provision on due process because all it wants is to have its citizens back in home safely.
Article 1. (b) of the August 21 Luanda MoU compels Uganda to “refrain from actions conducive to destabilization or subversion in the territory of the other Party and neighboring countries, thereby eliminating all factors that may create such perception, as well as that of acts such as the financing, training and infiltration of destabilizing forces.”
Reports have since confirmed that the RNC’s commissioner for youth, Frank Ntwali, and its commissioner for capacity development, Benjamin Rutabana, were in Uganda on official duty between September 5 and 15, 2019. Mr Rutabana’s wife also appeared on BBC to confirm that her husband is yet to leave Uganda and return to Brussels where they reside. She disclosed farther, that prior to his departure for Uganda, he had been in constant communication with Brig. Abel Kandiho, head of Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI).
Paragraph 3 of the September 16 Kigali joint communiqué provides that “both parties reiterated their commitment to refraining from any acts of destabilization against each other.”
Despite this, when on October 4, 2019, RUD-Urunana terrorists attacked Musanze district killing 14 civilians, those captured in the subsequent security pursuit disclosed they had been recruited in Uganda.
Most importantly, three of the leaders of that attack retreated to Uganda where they were placed under the protection of its security forces. Efforts to get an explanation about this have fallen on deaf ears, with Kampala simply ignoring Rwanda’s diplomatic note on the issue.
Paragraph 4 of the Kigali communiqué states that “both parties committed to cease all forms of hostile propaganda in both mainstream and social media.”
However, on November 12, 2019, the Uganda government chief spokesperson released a press release referring to Rwandan security personnel as criminals, showing hostile anti-Rwanda propaganda in the highest echelons of Uganda’s government.
Under normal circumstances and established practice in international relations, these violations would prompt Rwanda to either retaliate by mistreating Ugandans in Rwanda, supporting a proxy enemy to destabilize Uganda, or to the very minimum a withdrawal from the Angola MoU given its continuous violation by Uganda and its repeated provocations.
However, Rwanda’s determination to avoid any such response underlines its commitment to peaceful relations with Uganda, and that it will do all that is necessary to facilitate the implementation of the terms of the MoU even in the face of unceasing provocations.
Unfortunately, Uganda’s continued provocations also suggest that it has absolutely no intention of backtracking from its support of Kayumba Nyamwasa’s RNC and will do anything to force the abandonment of the Angola MoU.
This is more so as Kampala really never wanted the MoU in the first place, being forced to sign because the status quo of its unfettered support (diplomatic, recruitment, organization) of a rebellion to destabilize another country – let alone a next-door neighbor, was no longer tenable in the face of disapproving sub-regional states.
However, given Uganda’s clear determination to ignore the letter and spirit of both the Luanda MoU and the subsequent Kigali communiqué on how to give practical effect to the provisions of the MoU, Rwanda may now be forced to consider if there is any purpose to adhering to a process that the other party has no intention to respect.
It is now just a minute to midnight for the Luanda MoU process.